How Can I Make My Loneliness Go Away?
It is Saturday night. The boy sits alone in his room.
“I hate weekends!” he shouts. But there is no one in the room to answer. He picks up a magazine and sees a picture of a group of young people at the beach. He hurls the magazine against the wall. Tears well up. He clamps his teeth on his underlip, but the tears keep pushing. Unable to fight it any longer, he falls on his bed, sobbing, “Why am I always left out?”
DO YOU sometimes feel like that—cut off from the world, lonely, useless, and empty? If so, do not despair. For while feeling lonely is no fun, it is not some fatal disease. Simply put, loneliness is a warning signal. Hunger warns you that you need food. Loneliness warns you that you need companionship, closeness, intimacy. We need food to function well. Likewise, we need companionship to feel well.
Have you ever watched a bed of glowing coals? When you take one coal away from the heap, the glow of that single coal dies away. But after you put the coal back into the heap, it glows again! In isolation, we humans similarly do not “glow,” or function well, for long. The need for companionship is built into our makeup.
Alone But Not Lonely
Essayist Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Do you agree? “Yes,” says Bill, age 20. “I like nature. Sometimes I get in my little boat and go out on a lake. I sit there for hours all alone. It gives me time to reflect on what I’m doing with my life. It’s really great.” Twenty-one-year-old Steven agrees. “I live in a big apartment building,” he says, “and sometimes I go to the roof of the building just to be alone. I get some thinking done and pray. It’s refreshing.”
Yes, if used well, moments of solitude can give us deep satisfaction. Jesus too enjoyed such moments: “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] rose up and went outside and left for a lonely place, and there he began praying.” (Mark 1:35) Remember, Jehovah did not say, ‘It is not good for man to be momentarily by himself.’ Rather, God said that it was not good for man “to continue by himself.” (Genesis 2:18-23) It is prolonged periods of isolation, then, that may lead to loneliness. The Bible warns: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.”—Proverbs 18:1.
Sometimes loneliness is imposed on us by circumstances beyond our control, like being away from close friends as a result of moving to a new location. Recalls Steven: “Back home James and I were friends, closer than brothers. When I moved away, I knew I was going to miss him.” Steven pauses, as if reliving the moment of departure. “When I had to board the plane, I got choked up. We hugged, and I left. I felt that something precious was gone.”
How did Steven make out in his new environment? “It was rough,” he says. “Back home my friends liked me, but here some of the folks I worked with made me feel as if I were no good. I remember looking at the clock and counting back four hours (that was the time difference) and thinking what James and I could be doing right now. I felt lonely.”
When things are not going well, we often dwell on better times that we had in the past. However, the Bible says: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Why this advice?
For one thing, circumstances can change for the better. That is why researchers often speak of “temporary loneliness.” Steven could thus overcome his loneliness. How? “Talking about my feelings with someone who cares helped. You cannot live on in the past. I forced myself to meet other people, show interest in them. It worked; I found new friends.” And what about James? ‘I was wrong. Moving away did not end our friendship. The other day I phoned him. We talked and talked for one hour and 15 minutes.’
Sometimes, though, the gnawing pain of loneliness persists, and there seems to be no way out. Ronny, a high school student, relates: “I’ve been going to school in this district for eight years, but in all that time I’ve never managed to make one single friend! . . . Nobody knows what I feel and nobody cares. Sometimes I think I just can’t stand it anymore!”
Like Ronny, many teenagers experience what is often called chronic loneliness. This is more serious than temporary loneliness. In fact, say researchers, the two are “as different as the common cold and pneumonia.” But just as pneumonia can be cured, chronic loneliness can be beaten too. The first step is trying to understand its cause. (Proverbs 1:5) And 16-year-old Rhonda pinpoints the most common cause of chronic loneliness, saying: “I think the reason why I feel very lonely is because—well you can’t have friends if you feel badly about yourself. And I guess I don’t like myself very much.”—Lonely in America.
Rhonda’s loneliness comes from within. Her low self-esteem forms a barrier that keeps her from opening up and making friends. Says one researcher: “Thoughts such as ‘I’m unattractive,’ ‘I’m uninteresting,’ ‘I’m worthless,’ are common themes among the chronically lonely.” The key to overcoming your loneliness may thus lie in building your self-respect. (See Chapter 12.) As you develop what the Bible calls “the new personality,” characterized by kindness, lowliness of mind, and mildness, your self-respect is sure to grow!—Colossians 3:9-12.
Furthermore, as you learn to like yourself, others will be drawn to your appealing qualities. But just as you can only see the full colors of a flower after it unfolds, so others can fully appreciate your qualities only if you open up to them.
Breaking the Ice
‘The best advice for a lonely person,’ says a recent publication from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, is to ‘get involved with other people.’ This advice harmonizes with the Bible’s counsel to “widen out” and show “fellow feeling,” or empathy. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 1 Peter 3:8) It works. Caring for others not only gets your mind off your own loneliness but motivates others to take an interest in you.
Nineteen-year-old Natalie thus decided that she would do more than sit back and wait for people to say hi. ‘I have to be friendly too,’ she says. ‘Otherwise people will think I’m stuck-up.’ So start with a smile. The other person might smile back.
Next, strike up a conversation. Lillian, age 15, admits: “Going up to strangers for the first time was really scary. I was afraid that they wouldn’t accept me.” How does Lillian start conversations? She says: “I ask simple questions like, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Do you know so and so?’ We both may know a person, and before long we’re talking.” Kind acts and a generous spirit will likewise help you to build precious friendships.—Proverbs 11:25.
Remember too that you can have a friend who will never let you down. Jesus Christ told his disciples: “I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” (John 16:32) Jehovah can become your closest friend too. Get to know his personality by reading the Bible and observing his creation. Strengthen your friendship with him by prayer. Ultimately, a friendship with Jehovah God is the best cure for loneliness.
If you still feel lonely from time to time, relax. That is perfectly normal. What, though, if extreme shyness is holding you back from making friends and being with others?
Questions for Discussion
◻ Is being alone necessarily a bad thing? Are there benefits from solitude?
◻ Why is most loneliness temporary? Have you found this to be true in your own case?
◻ What is chronic loneliness, and how can you battle it?
◻ What are some ways of ‘breaking the ice’ with others? What has worked for you?
[Blurb on page 119]
‘The best advice for a lonely person,’ says the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, is to ‘get involved with other people’
[Pictures on page 116, 117]
Friends can keep in touch even across long distances
[Picture on page 118]
Periods of solitude can be enjoyable